The Problem of Conditioning

To address the problem of conditioning, Jiddu Krishnamurti set about creating a culture of inquiry in his schools. He wanted to see if orienting education toward inquiry could set the mind free from conditioning.   From the discourse that went on all around us we gathered that conditioning and habits were linked.  It was much later that I realized that the conditioning being addressed at school referred to the more subtle habits of thought.  Over the years he went to great trouble to establish a culture of inquiry where we felt free to challenge authority.  Modeling this inquiry also meant that we often challenged the authority of what was known to us.  Perhaps this was the most remarkable outcome of being able to engage in the process of inquiry.  In early childhood the feeling of security is not closely linked to prior knowledge.  The world is vibrant and not dull and one relies naturally on non-verbal cues to feel secure.  The fact that one should rely upon knowledge alone is anathema in a child’s world view.  It is an incredible thought because tangibly there is so much more information simply by being aware … so why would you rely on knowledge … to feel secure?

 However, as the mind becomes accustomed to language and as it begins to rely more and more on imagination to be informed the habit of thought establishes itself and there emerges a sense of a stream of consciousness.  Consciousness at large dwindles into a trickle gathering, forcing its way and surging with ideas. It takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain a train of thought.  If you are interested one day we can look at the pressures children encounter when addressing the dissonance between their own emerging view of things, and the immanent facts of life they face. 

 When Jiddu Krishnamurti directed us to watch how we constructed reality, we did just that.  I watched how we put things together, how associations formed and sparked feelings, furtive feelings, joyful feelings, longing feelings.  The list goes on.  May I point out that during childhood we all work hard at reconstructing reality, but at some point there is a leap of faith where it becomes far easier to simply refer to ideas, to our prior knowledge.  They begin to register as carrying more weight than the immediate facts of life. This is a fact that I stumbled across while watching the movement of thought.  At first I was stunned.  Then for some years it felt like an awful transgression of life.  Then I grew accustomed to the feeling of doing a disservice to life by interpreting it.  Everyone else seemed to ride rough shod over life this way and I just wanted to keep abreast of things.  It was, I thought just a game of pretence.

 For children watching thought happens by reflection.  It might happen by, observing a tree, or a strange looking house.  Then the narrative builds around the object and it begins to take on another dimension (in the sense of a strange or sinister looking house) or an inflated dimension (in the sense of a holy tree with a little idol under it).  So you reflect on this strange transition in regard taking place over a space of months and you think, fancy that ... it was just a tree among other trees once … until someone stuck an idol under it and now suddenly it is a 'holy’ tree.  Such insights highlight the influence of thought and shed light on a lazy predisposition to refer to images.  Luckily during this stage in life the mind bridles with the perennial question “And then what happens?”  By creating a culture of inquiry Jiddu Krishnamurti was able to harness our natural curiosity to also address the way thinking shaped our minds.  In this manner he awakened our interest in the way thought fashioned and constructed meaning.

 We were watching as the mind became steeped in interpretations.  We were shaping identities and slowly but surely growing attached to our ideas.  This shift in preference is so important to be mindful of.  “Observe the network of thoughts” he said.  It made perfect sense to watch them form.  So for me the most important gift Jiddu Krishnamurti left behind was the directive that we should watch the impact of labels, the impact of thought, that we should be concerned with the impact of conditioning on our minds. 

Geetha Waters


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